Wednesday, April 1, 2020

The Midge Master

My encounters with midges over the years has finally paid off. I am launching The Midge-Master, soon to be on the top-ten list of essentials for all island baggers. It is a midge hat with five hi-speed fans that keep the bugs at bay. It's great fun to wear, especially if you are camping with others. You can watch as its hi-efficiency fans blow hordes of bloodthirsty midges over to your friends. Watch as they squirm and swat, while you sit comfortably enjoying a dram. What better way to spend a night under the stars!

As an added bonus, on windy days when the bugs are not a problem, the Midge-Master can be used as a generator to charge the fans and your smart phone. No longer will you have to fret about being off-grid. You'll be able to watch your favourite cat videos anywhere, from Mingulay to Rona. I well remember long nights camped on the far shores of Loch Reasort; the only sounds the gentle lapping of surf, the pitter-patter of rain on the tent, barking red deer, and drumming snipe. It was driving me crazy—oh how I longed for a fully-charged phone to catch up on the latest celebrity news. With the Midge-Master I'll never have to suffer such agonizing deprivation again—and neither will you. Details on how to purchase coming soon. 

Field testing The Midge-Master in Glen Corodale
Note the Tesco Brandy - when only the best will do!
Even though I've defeated the mighty midge, I will not be resting on my laurels. Under development is the next evolution in insect defense. After the midge, the fiercest foe of the besieged island bagger is the cleg: those big, fat, blood lapping devils, whose bite lingers long after that of the lowly midge. What's in development is the Cleg-Cap. Only one obstacle remains before it will be available to the public. I am having a bit of a problem keeping the Venus Fly-Traps attached to the cap from biting the wearer. On the plus-side they do keep down the dandruff. But no problem is insurmountable. A breakthrough is imminent, and some much needed relief will soon be on the way for bug-bothered island-baggers everywhere.

Friday, March 6, 2020

A Beehive Book - No, it's not about Bees

The photo is of one of the three beehive cells on the Flannan Isles. It shows hundreds of puffins flocking around the smallest cell on the island. The stones in the foreground (lower right) are the top of the largest beehive, a triple cell with an oratory chamber in the middle. 

I have been in love with these beautiful structures for thirty years; structures that are slowly falling apart, one-by one, as those years pass by. For example, in 2018 I revisited a cell I'd seen in Clar Beg (Lewis) in 1998, only to discover that it had collapsed in the intervening 20 years. I've become so enamored with these relics of times-gone-by that I started working on a book about them six years ago. It describes journeys to a hundred Hebridean cells, from Islay to North Rona. I recently found a publisher, and it should be out later this year. Stay tuned for more details.

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Point of Sleat

After writing the last post on IKEA lighthouses, I remembered another memorable minor light I'd visited long ago; one that has also been replaced by an IKEA tower. This particular light stood at one of the most iconic locations in the Hebrides, the Point of Sleat, the southernmost tip of the isle of Skye. Anyone who has taken the Calmac ferry to Canna or Rum has come within a mile of the point. Although I've sailed past it a dozen times, I've only visited it once.

That visit was way back in 1997. My wife and I were staying at the Eilean Iarmain Hotel, and on our last morning I decided to get up early and walk to the point. (I had a lot more energy back then. These days I like to sleep in). A ten-mile drive took me to the end of the road, where there was a small parking area. From there it was an enjoyable two-mile hike out to the light; passing, along the way, a half-dozen abandoned crofts. 

The light I visited dated to 1934. Unlike IKEA towers it had an external ladder that allowed you to climb to the balcony. As described in my journal entry for that day, from the top of the tower you could see the internal workings of the light:

...looking into the lantern room you could see a small mantle, like on a gas lantern, set to a low burn. Every 10 seconds (not sure, didn't think to measure it) a stream of more gas pulsed into the mantle to make it glow brighter for a second. 

My estimate was a bit off, as the Pilot's Guide for Skye says the beacon flashes every three seconds. The light I saw in 1997 was replaced by this IKEA tower in 2003.

It was probably photos like the next one, of a suspicious-looking vagrant messing around the light, that led them to put up towers that can not be climbed.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

What is an IKEA Lighthouse?

So, what exactly is an IKEA lighthouse?

A lighthouse enthusiast was on my 2019 guided cruise last July. As we were motoring past the Garvellach Isles he mentioned we were passing an IKEA lighthouse, and I had to ask what he meant. It turns out the term refers to the modern pre-fab beacons the Northern Lighthouse Board puts up when an old minor light needs to be replaced. Over the years I'd noticed several of these utilitarian towers had replaced the more traditional beacons seen in years past. 

The IKEA tower on the Garvellachs replaced a light I'd first seen in 1997, that I believe was built in 1904. It was a more elegant structure than the tower that replaced it, and even more interesting because you could climb up onto to its small balcony.

The beacon that replaced it in 2003, while functional, does not allow for the wandering island bagger to climb to its top.  I discovered this on a visit in 2016. Although you can climb the rocks to the base of the tower, it is not possible to get up on top.

Another example of this modernization is the beacon at Aird Laimisiader, two miles west of Carloway in Lewis. On a hike there over 20 years ago, as described in Chapter 18 of Book 2, I walked to the old beacon at the tip of the headland, which dated to 1892.

Over a decade passed before I walked that way again, when I discovered the old beacon had been replaced by one of the IKEA variety.

As the years pass these IKEA towers might become as iconic as those they replace. For we will probably see even more utilitarian structures in these remote spots: tiny Wi-Fi beacons pinging out their locations to warn self-piloted boats that danger lurks.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Remote Jura - Glengarrisdale

I have posted before on a long walk I made to Glengarrisdale on the northwest end of Jura. (It was also the subject of chapter 7 in Book 1.) That walk was made in 2010. Ten years have passed, and, sadly, I've not had a chance to return to Glengarrisdale. I say sad for two reasons: the first is that is is a beautiful walk, the second is that I left a friend there. His name is Skull, and I left him all alone, perched on a ledge in a shallow cave. In 2014 a reader sent me a note that Skull was still there, and someday I hope to return to see how he's doing.

Aside from seeing Skull, I'd like return to Glengarrisdale to once again traverse some of the most beautiful terrain I've ever hiked across. The long descent to the coast from the spine of the island crosses rolling glens separated by rocky ridges, with ever-present sea views laid out before you. The walk starts at the parking area at Road's End (NR 6695 9272). The information sign omits any mention of Glengarisdale, which lies three miles to the northwest.

What follows are scenes from the walk to Glengarrisdale that I hope will entice you to make that same journey, yourself.

After two hours of hiking the bothy at Glengarrisdale comes into view.

From the bothy there is a direct view north to Scarba. A view that includes the Corryvreakan whirlpool.

In the next photo you can see the gamekeeper's track. It is a good way to return to the road.

If you follow the gamekeeper's track back to the road, the sight of these two posts tells you your long trek is at an end. They hold the chain barrier that blocks the public from driving any farther north. From there is is only a few minutes of easy walking back to the parking area. If you've made the walk, be sure to reward yourself with a pint at the pub - only a 25 mile slow drive to the south.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Loch an Ath Ruaidh

In May of 2017 I camped for two nights by a beautiful loch in the remote interior of southwest Lewis. I had not planned to camp there. I'd wanted to make it all the way to the Aird Mhor, at the mouth of Loch Reasort. The hike had started at Kinlochrog. But due to the difficult terrain, after eight hours of hiking I'd only traversed ten miles. My legs were shot, and the pack seemed to get heavier with every step. It was getting late, and Aird Mhor was still another two hilly miles west. So I decided to call it a day and find a campsite. 

Circumstances create memories. The campsite I found was absolutely amazing. It was on the grassy shore of a little loch; a loch hidden in a cradle of hills; hills rich with deer, grouse, snipe, and the occasional eagle.  Oh, and one other thing - hills full of shielings and beehive cells.

The name of the loch is Loch an Ath Ruaidh, the loch of the red-stone ford. It is compact, only about four acres in size. Early hunter-gatherers appreciated this site; plenty of game, fresh water, and shelter provided by the surrounding hills. They liked it so much they built six beehive dwellings around the loch. The following photo, taken near a beehive on the north end of the loch, shows the locations of several of the cells.

Loch an Ath Ruaidh remains one of my favorite Hebridean campsites. I was fortunate in 2017, as it was sunny, with just enough of a breeze to keep the midges away. When I returned to the loch two years later, it was a cold, wet, and windy day. I decided to camp in a different location, as I did not want to ruin the memory of what had been a perfect island campsite. 

What follows are photos of Loch an Ath Ruaidh from 2017. My little blue tent shows up in all but the final photo. That one shows the only company I had during three sunny days in the Aird Mhor.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Kerrera - The North End Ferry

When you are in Oban there's no better way to spend a day than a walk on the island of Kerrera. In Book 1 (chapter 22) I describe three walks on the island: the South Ring walk to Gylen Castle, the North Ring walk to the Hutcheson Monument, and the climb to Carn Breugach, the summit of the island: walks illustrated in this map from the book.

The walks in the book have one thing in common: they all start from the Kerrera island ferry that departs from Gallanach, south of Oban. While the walk to Gallanach is only two miles, due to the busy, narrow road, it can be an unpleasant walk. So unpleasant that, on several occasions, I forked out six pounds to take a taxi from Oban to the ferry.

The Gallanach to Kerrera Ferry
Another way to get to Kerrera is the Oban to Ardentrive Marina ferry. In the past it was only available to boaters berthed at the marina. But a few years ago it started to be available to day-trippers wanting to walk the north end of the island, or have a bite at the Waypoint Restaurant. If you are staying in Oban it is a convenient way to get to the island, and you can book a seat online. Last July I had a few hours to spare in Oban, so I decided to try out the ferry, and also make a walk on the island. Being mid-summer the conditions were not ideal - in other word the bracken was tall and thick - as were the midges. What follows are some photos from that day on Kerrera.

The Ardentrive Ferry approaching Oban's North Pier

On the approach to Kerrera

The Hutcheson Monument on the hill above the marina

Ardentrive Marina - WWII flying boat hanger at the right

The climb to the Hutcheson Monument

Looking back to the marina - late July meant thick bracken, and even thicker midges

The Mull ferry entering Oban Harbour

The most historic site on Kerrera is the 8th century Christian cashel at the extreme north tip of the island. In July is is completely covered in bracken, so nothing is visible.

The next photo shows the cashel in May, when the bracken is dead and dried up.

Just below the cashel is the beautiful beach of Port a' Bhearnaig.

As I made my way back to the Marina I saw the Calmac ferry heading back to Mull. At ten round-trips a day it must be the most lucrative route in the world. The next photo shows the ferry passing The Dog Stone, where it is said Fingal tied up Bran when he went hunting. (Though I would think Fingal would want his dog with him when hunting.) The photo after that shows the ferry approaching Dunollie Castle.

Always wanting to set foot on a new island, I wandered down to the tidal crossing to the islet of Rubha a' Cruidh (cattle point), from where they once swam cattle to the mainland. The tide was too high to cross over safely. And although there were stepping stones, they were slippy and spaced far apart. Even if I'd been able to cross over, a gate barred access to the track on the far side which leads to the grand mansion that was built on the islet several years ago.

Stepping stones to Rubha a' Cruidh

Looking across to Dunollie Castle from the tidal crossing
After a couple hours of walking I returned to the marina. I had a few minutes before the ferry left, so I took a look at the Waypoint Restaurant. Unfortunately I did not have time for a pint.

Along with a few other day-trippers, and several yotties, I boarded the boat for the return to Oban. The ferry service was excellent, and next time I hope to use it in combination with having a meal at the Waypoint Restaurant. Next time you are in Oban be sure to take this ferry for a short (or long) walk on Kerrera - it will be time well spent. 

Return to Oban